The Maritime Union of Australia has urged the Abbott Government to protect Australian jobs, the maritime skills base and the environment when considering changes to laws covering coastal shipping in Australia.
Transport Minister Warren Truss today released the Regulation of Coastal Shipping Options Paper, which lays out options it says will support Australian shipping.
The MUA agrees with the Government when it says: “a viable, vibrant shipping industry is essential to our national prosperity and it is critical that our transport links are working at optimal capacity and efficiently.”
However, MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said it was important to not throw the baby out with the bathwater and give the laws passed in 2012 the time to work, rather than repeal the Coastal Trading Act.
"Australia is the fourth largest user of ships in the world. Our thousands of acres of Ports, too numerous to count, provide fundamental economic trade inside Australia and with our overseas trading partners,” Mr Crumlin said.
"Shipping and Australian commodity production are bookend brothers. It would be policy negligence to dismantle the important ground-breaking reforms agreed after six years of exhaustive consultation between shippers, shipowners, port managers and unions both state and federal.
"Australian shipping must enjoy bi-partisan political support. We must not do anything to undermine the essential skills that drive an industry that adds value to the national economy and would again open us up as an international point of ridicule .
“Changing the Act would be the policy equivalent of getting a plumber to fit a new toilet but saving money on not installing the waste pipe. We'd be up to our neck in crap at some point in our economic and national security future.
"I urge the Abbott Government to keep installing the pipes that last Government has already purchased on behalf of good economic and sustainable management. They will have not only great support but will demonstrate a maturity that is a prerequisite of good governance."
Mr Crumlin said that over the life of the Howard Government, the number of Australian-flagged vessels plummeted from 55 to 21 and that the 2012 changes were desperately needed.
“The 2012 changes to the Coastal Trading Act were the biggest maritime reform since the passing of the Navigation Act 100 years ago,” Mr Crumlin said.
“They have the potential to create employment, sustain business opportunities and productivity and build the national interest through an industry that has always been and always will be critical to the quality of Australia’s economy, environment and way of life.
“The industry employs thousands of Australians and cannot be allowed to fail.”
The changes brought in included a zero company tax rate to shipowners as an incentive to flag their vessels with the Australian flag and an overhaul of the system for issuing permits to foreign ships.
“What Australia has done is show the way in international shipping by showing that it doesn’t have to be a race to the bottom,” Mr Crumlin said.
"Over the previous decade, we had seen FOC ships, with their poor standards and exploited crews, take over our ports and displace Australian vessels.
“The changes have meant that shipowners on the Australian coast have been able to effectively compete in the domestic freight market with FOC ships.
Mr Crumlin also said a revitalised Australian shipping industry will enable us to protect our environment from the risks posed by FOC ships, like the ones that have damaged our Great Barrier Reef.
"No Australian ship has ever run into the barrier reef; no Australian ship has been involved in an environmental disaster,” Mr Crumlin said.
“The only ships to have run aground on our precious reefs have been foreign vessels.”